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Betting Strategies for the NFL Preseason


Degenerate. That’s the first word you often hear when telling your friends that you’re placing wagers on preseason NFL games. But don’t worry about getting mocked for betting on “exhibition” games. The money you earn from cashing tickets during the preseason spends exactly the same as money made during the regular season. There are also several reasons why bettors can find bigger edges on NFL preseason games than they do during the regular season. First off, there isn’t as much competition in the betting markets. Most bettors are simply waiting for the regular season, so there are less bettors handicapping preseason games overall. They are missing out. So many unique factors come into play only during the preseason and here are some great betting tips to take advantage of them:

1. Study Preseason Results for Head Coaches

Every head coach treats the preseason differently. Some coaches want to win every single game no matter if it’s an exhibition game or not. They’ll play their starters longer and get them as many reps as possible to get ready for the regular season. Other coaches want to take a hard look at the fringe guys competing for roster spots. They’ll play the second and third-stringers longer to see what they’ve got. Winning isn’t a priority for them. The best way to gauge a head coach’s approach to the preseason is to look at his historical ATS records. Those ATS records will tell you who cares and who doesn’t. You’ll learn that John Harbaugh (31-15 ATS) and Pete Carroll (34-16 ATS) take the preseason very seriously and that Mike Shanahan is the greatest preseason coach of all-time. You’ll need a decent sample as a couple of years of data just isn’t long enough to make any definitive conclusions.

If you do have a large sample for a specific head coach, it could make sense to also look at his ATS record by each specific preseason week. Some head coaches don’t care much about those first two games. But when it comes down Week 3 and Week 4 of the preseason, they are locked in and want to win. They’ll scheme the opponent and play aggressively in an effort to build some confidence for their team.

2. Motivation Matters

During the regular season, you don’t see too much variation in motivation between NFL teams. With only 16 games on the schedule, everyone is usually fired up and ready to play. But during the preseason, motivation can vary significantly between teams. Some teams simply care about the preseason less than others. Teams with an 0-3 straight up record heading into their final preseason game have performed very poorly ATS historically in that fourth game. Between 2001 and 2016, those 0-3 teams were 23-30-1 ATS with a -3.2 average cover margin. Those teams had mentally checked out and were ready for the regular season to get underway. The data also shows that first year head coaches like to get an early preseason win under their belts. It takes a little bit of pressure off of the organization and signals to management that they’ve hired a winner. Pride is a great motivator. Find the motivational angles and you’ll find more winners.

3. Mobile Quarterbacks are Helpful

It’s tough to find rhythm and continuity in the preseason. Teams are throwing out different lineups in each contest and shuffling players in and out of games to see how they react in certain spots. Offensive teammates have a particularly tough time staying on the same page with all of the mixing and matching. The lack of continuity leads to a lot of broken plays and improvising by the offense. Mobile quarterbacks are usually more adept at creating something out of nothing with their legs. As a result, those gifted runners can lead to more point spread winners. It pays to know the strengths and weaknesses of each quarterback that takes the field during the preseason.

4. Key Numbers Aren’t as Important

In the NFL, there are various “key” numbers that bettors must be aware of when trying to get their wagers down. Margins of victory of 3, 7 and 10 are obviously more prevalent than other numbers. That’s crucial when line shopping and trying to find value in the betting markets. But when it comes to the preseason, key numbers aren’t quite as key. For example, games on land on three over 14% of the time during the regular season. In the preseason, that probability dips below 12%. It’s not a massive difference, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

A great example of this occurred in last year’s Hall of Fame Game between the Ravens and Bears. Baltimore led 17-10 late in the game before Tyler Bray led Chicago on a 12-play 92-yard drive with just a couple of minutes remaining. The series was capped off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Tanner Gentry, which made the score 17-16. Instead of kicking the extra point to tie it, the Bears decided to go for the two-point conversion to avoid a potential overtime period. During the regular season, there’s no question that the Bears kick the extra point and likely tie it up. The game is probably decided by a late field goal in regulation or overtime. But instead of a 3-point margin of victory, the Bears failed on their two-point attempt and Baltimore held on for the 17-16 victory. Baltimore backers who layed -2 or -2.5 clearly were a little upset. But given the change in strategy during the preseason, I advocate playing more moneylines and avoiding laying small numbers.

5. Find Out the Game Plan

One the great benefits of handicapping the preseason is that you often know the game plan for each team. Head coaches are much less guarded about how they want to attack their opponent. You will often hear a coach say that they really want to focus on the running game or that they want to get a lot of passing attempts in. You’ll obviously never hear that during the regular season. That type of information is gold for handicappers for both sides and totals. A team that’s dead set on running is certainly going to chew up some clock and help UNDER bettors. It also probably leads to suboptimal play calling if they’re stubborn enough to keep in on the ground in passing situations. You’ll need to do a some reading and listening to interviews throughout the week, but I promise that you’ll find some good information if you put the proper time in.

6. Know the Quarterback Rotations

These days, it’s relatively easy to find out which quarterbacks are going to play in a particular preseason game. Do a little bit more reading and you’ll often times know exactly how long they’ll play for as well. Given the vast differences in talent levels at the quarterback position, this information is huge. Remember that quarterbacks move the betting line far greater than any position on the football field. The better quarterbacks are worth upwards of a touchdown or more versus a weak backup. If you can get ahead of the market on securing the quarterback rotations for both teams, you’re likely to find a good bet.

Do your preseason homework and it will pay off in a much bigger way than it does during the regular season. The jeers from your friends aren’t going to bother you when you’ve added some extra padding to your bankroll to start the regular season. Time to get to work.

Eric Waz had a monster season in the NFL last year, bringing home +15.1 units of profit overall for clients while connecting on nearly 60% of his selections. Click HERE to receive every selection Waz makes from the preseason through the Super Bowl.

Eric Waz

Waz has been a successful professional sports bettor since moving to Las Vegas in 2010. His comprehensive approach to sports betting includes quantifying the impact of factors that can be difficult to evaluate (scheduling, injuries, coaching, etc.). He’s developed several cutting-edge handicapping tools that are now available at BettorIQ. Waz won the 2011 NFL Last Man Standing title ($86,000) at Station Casinos by beating out over 4,200 entrants. He has also notched 5 cashes in 7 years in the prestigious Westgate NFL Supercontest. Get on board with a true professional sports bettor with a proven track record.